Shanghai: I'm in the mood for shopping

by Simon Hunter-Williams
Groove Korea (groovekorea.com)

Shanghai is a city tagged with many names: “The Paris of the East,” “The Pearl of the Orient” and my personal favorite, “The Whore of the Orient” (the East India Company found the city to be very helpful in satisfying both their tea needs and their burgeoning taste for opium). My love affair with Shanghai started when I moved to Korea three years ago, and I have returned to it annually because it feels like a second home. Yet, even still, each visit reveals something new and enchanting. The city offers ever-changing cultural locations, arts, food and, most especially, fantastic shopping — what more could you want? Shanghai is a perfect place to meet, greet and buy, and you won’t even have to spend tons of money. Just jump on one of the daily direct flights from Seoul and see how the mood strikes you; travel plans in this wildly cosmopolitan city are best made on the day. 

The quickest entry into Shanghai from Pudong Airport is on the Maglev train. Pay 50 yuan (around 8,000 won) for a ticket then hang on tight as the train whisks you from the airport to Longyang Road Station at 150 mph. Transfer to line 2 or 7 for the last leg of your journey into the city, away from the buzz of Korean life for the next few days. 

Start at the Bund to get your bearings. It offers a beautiful scenic location to capture the history and evolution of Shanghai, where the couture fashion houses and bars used to be the headquarters for many European banks. Sit in awe at the Pudong waterfront, suck up your morning brew and then head towards People’s Square, but be sure to stop off first at the Rockbund Gallery to get a touch of European art’s latest craze. Marked by a beautiful modern building that attracts the double-decker tourist buses, People’s Square is quintessential Shanghai. If you feel inspired, you can even grab one of the Big Bus tours; you’ll see the Shanghai Museum, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the former provisional government of Korea and the site of the first national congress of the Communist Party in Xintiandi, all on a tour that will cost you less than 5,000 won.

Later on, before you hit the markets, you should consider getting a closer look at the Jin Mao Tower (also called the Golden Prosperity Building). With 88 floors, it was the tallest building in China and the fifth largest building in the world until its new next-door neighbor, Shanghai Tower, started reaching for the crown (it’s expected to be completed later this year with 121 floors). You can visit the traditional tourist viewing space or for a plusher experience, you can head to the Cloud 9 bar on the 87th floor of Shanghai’s Grand Hyatt, where an expansive view of the tower and a nice evening cocktail await you.

But the next day, now that you’ve figured a few things out, the real party starts: It’s time to take yourself shopping. This glitzy and glamorous city is an ideal place to splash your cash or get your bartering skills in order. Just remember, the real price is never the one on the label, and if anyone tries to approach you for some “English practice,” keep your eyes on your pockets. These guys will distract you, then run off with your cash if you don’t have your wits about you. Nanjing Road, a short walk from the Bund, is one of the best shopping streets in China and an excellent place to watch haggling in action (and practice your theatrics); this 5.5 km stretch of shops attracts nearly 2 million people a day, so have a browse, have a coffee and gather your gusto for the real deal: Tiantong Road.

It’s the mecca of the barter shopping experience, for among the steaming food stalls and piles of brightly colored trinkets are seemingly endless opportunities to take your new bargaining skills for a test drive. Here’s how to work it: If you see something you want, try to get a rough idea of the value of it before you start haggling. Stand around for a few seconds and see what others are paying, or just be bold and ask someone what they paid, and try not to drop any more money than the locals do. Once you’re ready, approach the attendant and state a price that is much lower than what you expect to eventually pay, but not so low that you show ignorance to the item’s worth. The vendor will in turn respond with a ridiculously high price, to which you should reply with open astonishment or a laugh — he’ll expect it — and a counteroffer. Bounce it back and forth until you come to a price you’re comfortable with, and try to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing; if you’re out of tricks and the attendant won’t budge, just walk away and find another seller (sometimes they’ll call you back to the booth and accept your price).

AP Plaza offers the biggest market, but Dapuqiao and Xujiahui are better if you’re looking for American, European or Korean brands. And, of course, if you’re tired of bartering, there’s Metro City Mall with its three massive supermarkets and familiar stores for the haggle-weary Westerner. You can get your hands on some super cheap electronics, grab some international cuisine and drool at luxury couture brands all at the same time. It’s China at its finest.

Getting there
Flights from Korean airports to Shanghai are regular and short. A visa is required for entry into China, and acquiring one can take up to three days. Start the process early.

Travelers on a budget are recommended to try Mingtown Hikers International Hostel, on Tianjin Road. Less than five minutes from the main shopping district, Mingtown will instantly make you feel like a local (and you can have your clothes washed and pressed for less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee).

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